Parthian Shot

Another big gap between posts – I keep trying to update more frequently but less verbosely, and failing dismally. But I’m not about to give up, so here’s a brief comment on a folk etymology I hadn’t come across before; the ‘Parthian shot’/’parting shot’.

As a student of arms, I frequent the excellent, where a commenter recently posted;

‘In classic times, the Parthian cavalry were famous for their tactic for riding up to the enemy, taking a single bowshot and then riding off.. from which we get the expression – taking a Parthian (or Parting) shot..!’

With due respect to the chap posting, this is about as redundant an etymology as I’ve ever seen. Parting = to separate, to leave. Shot=to shoot. How much more complex does it need to be? Even if there were a documented source for this claim, we couldn’t be sure that a given use of the phrase meant literally a parting shot, or was alluding to the supposed Parthian origin. The complicating factor is that, as it turns out, people actually have used ‘Parthian shot’ in the same context as ‘parting shot’. But there remains no evidence for their etymological connection. nails this one, so jump over there to see the first cites for each of the two phrases.



3 thoughts on “Parthian Shot

  1. “The Parthian horsemen were accustomed to discharge their missiles backwards while in real or pretended flight; hence used allusively in P. shaft, shot, glance, etc.” O.E.D. Not quite the same thing, I would say.

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